How To Make a Classic Old-Fashioned Cocktail

How To Make a Classic Old-Fashioned Cocktail

Elliott Clark
Feb 11, 2017
(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

In the world of cocktails, the Old Fashioned is the person who walks into a room and doesn't need an introduction. They've been in the game for so long that everyone knows them. Everyone admires and respects them. As cocktail recipes pop up and disappear by the season, the Old Fashioned remains. It represents everything a well-crafted cocktail should be: balanced. It's simply the best, and you can have the best right in the comfort of your own home.

Making the best Old Fashioned at home is really easy. Simplicity is the name of the game here. Bourbon whiskey, a little sugar, and a dash of bitters, stirred up with quality ice and garnished with an orange peel — that's all there is to it! Let's break it down a little bit, starting with the ingredients.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

The Old Fashioned Ingredients

Bourbon: Bourbon whiskey is the star of the show when it comes to the Old Fashioned. It stands out front and center, which is why you want to choose a quality bourbon whiskey to use. No need to break the bank on a bottle; a $20 to $30 price range should do the trick. A few quality bottles of bourbon whiskey are Bulleit, Four Roses, 1792, and Elijah Craig Small Batch. Those are a few of my personal favorites.

Even though the bourbon whiskey steals the spotlight, the sugar and bitters are no slackers. They take the award for best supporting actors, and help tame the bite whiskey brings.

Ever wondered? What's the Difference Between Whiskey and Bourbon?

Sugar: I recommend that the sugar used in the Old Fashioned be in the form of a simple syrup (sugar dissolved in water). Simple syrup blends best when mixing cocktails because it's already in liquid form. Some cocktail purists advocate for only using sugar cubes when making an Old Fashioned, but I find it to be annoying having to muddle and stir a sugar cube until all the minuscule sugar crystals dissolve. A simple syrup is the easier, smarter choice.

Get the recipe: How To Make Simple Syrup

Bitters: Next up, bitters. If you've been reading this thinking, "What the heck are bitters?" then let me explain. Bitters are the salt and pepper of the cocktail world; that's the best way to put it. They're small alcoholic tinctures made with a blend of herbs and spices, and range in various flavors. For an Old Fashioned, Angostura bitters are the standard. They help to bind ingredients, enhance flavors, and round out the cocktail. We've all experienced a meal that was good but seemed to be missing something … perhaps a little salt? It's the exact same with cocktails and bitters. Just like salt, though, a little bit goes a long way. Add too much of the bitters and you completely change the taste and flavor profile of the Old Fashioned. You only need a couple dashes!

Read more: What Are Bitters Anyway?

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

Building Your Old Fashioned

When mixing cocktails, the process generally falls into two camps: shaken or stirred. An Old Fashioned is a stirred cocktail. For a general rule of thumb, if a cocktail contains only spirits, then you want to stir. If a cocktail contains juice, dairy, or egg white, then you shake it.

When building your Old Fashioned, combine all of the ingredients into a mixing glass before adding the ice. I highly recommend using cubed ice from the grocery store or ice cubes formed from filtered water. Remember that the water that dilutes from your ice will be in your drink, so it matters!

Classic Cocktails with Apartment Bartender
Elliott Clark, home cocktail enthusiast and founder of Apartment Bartender, joins us this week to open class on classic cocktails to pair with your Great Steak Dinner. Whether you're new to making Martinis or a pro at mixing Old Fashioneds, Elliott has tips on everything from better booze to better barware to improve your home bar.

How To Make a Classic Old-Fashioned Cocktail

Makes 1 cocktail

What You Need


  • 2 ounces

    bourbon whiskey

  • 1/4 ounce

    simple syrup

  • 2 dashes

    Angostura bitters

  • Ice

  • Orange peel, for garnish

  • Equipment
  • Mixing or pint glass

  • Bar spoon

  • Hawthorne strainer

  • Jigger or small liquid measuring cup

  • Paring knife or Y-peeler

  • Rocks glass


  1. Mix the cocktail: Place the bourbon, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters in a mixing glass. Add the ice and stir with a bar spoon for 10 to 15 seconds.

  2. Strain the cocktail: Strain the cocktail into a rocks glass over one large ice cube, or cubed ice.

  3. Garnish the cocktail: Pare an orange peel and express the oils from the back of the peel over the old fashioned. Rub the peel around the rim of the glass and drop the peel into the glass.

More posts in The Great Steak Dinner: Classic Drink Recipes
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